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Biden Administration Executive Actions: Census

Among the executive orders President Biden signed on his first day in office was an affirmation that Census population counts would reflect the total number of residents in each state—regardless of their immigration or citizenship status. It has been the government’s longstanding practice for Census figures to be based on the “whole number of persons in each state” (as described in the 14th Amendment). However, former President Trump had attempted to change this policy via executive actions to use administrative records to produce citizenship data and to exclude undocumented immigrants from apportionment counts produced by the 2020 Census. President Biden’s executive order formally revokes these actions. As a result, the Census Bureau has announced that it indefinitely suspended its work to produce more detailed citizenship estimates and will not include information on citizenship or immigration status in its redistricting data. As previously reported, Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham resigned immediately before President Biden took office amid reports that he had been pressuring staff to release citizenship estimates in spite of concerns over the data quality.

The Census Bureau also announced that it is not planning to release apportionment data (which is used to allocate states’ seats in the House of Representatives and Electoral College votes) until April 30. The Trump Administration had been pressuring the Census Bureau to release this information by the end of 2020, in spite of the operational delays caused by the pandemic and resulting concerns about irregularities in the data that could be exacerbated by rushed processing. Census stakeholders had been advocating since the conclusion of the enumeration operation that the Bureau be given additional time to perform essential quality control activities. The Census Bureau will also delay the release of redistricting data, which states use to redraw district boundaries based on population, by several months, although an estimate of when they will be published has not yet been made public.

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Posted in Issue 3 (February 2), Update, Volume 40 (2021)

Dillingham Leaves Census Bureau After Whistleblower Complaints About Noncitizen Data Release

Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham announced his departure, effective January 20, eleven months before the end of his term. The announcement comes after whistleblower complaints came to light that Dillingham and senior political appointees were pressuring Census Bureau employees to rush the publication of a potentially “statistically indefensible” data report on noncitizens. Dillingham’s public announcement of his resignation included a response to questions posed by the Department of Commerce Inspector General’s Office regarding the noncitizens report. Dillingham’s announcement also notes that he has respect for President-elect Biden and had prepared, after requests from the Biden transition team, to stay on after the Presidential transition, but “I must do now what I think is best.” Census Bureau Deputy Director Ron Jarmin will again serve as acting director of the Bureau, a position he held for over a year prior to Dillingham’s nomination.

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Posted in Issue 2 (January 19), Update, Volume 40 (2021)

COSSA Asks OMB to Remove Census Citizenship Question

In response to a Federal Register request, COSSA submitted a comment to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requesting that, should a Census citizenship question be reinstated by the Supreme Court, as has been proposed by the Trump Administration, OMB remove it from the 2020 Census on the grounds that it violates the Paperwork Reduction Act. COSSA argues that including the question “is of minimal practical utility or public benefit, will increase the burden on respondents, and will harm the integrity and accuracy of information collected for statistical purposes.” The full comment is available on the COSSA website.

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Posted in Issue 6 (March 19), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

Supreme Court to Decide Fate of Census Citizenship Question

The Supreme Court has announced that it will consider whether the Secretary of Commerce was within his rights to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 Census, after a judge in a lower court struck down the question in January. The Court agreed to hear arguments in the case in April and render a decision by the end of June to give the Administration enough time to make final preparations for the Census to be conducted next year. As COSSA has reported, the decision to add the citizenship question without conducting research to ensure the quality of Census data would be maintained has been a major concern for the science and research community.

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Posted in Issue 4 (February 19), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

Senate Panel Considers Dillingham Nomination for Census Director

On October 3, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a confirmation hearing to consider the Trump Administration’s nomination of Steven Dillingham for Director of the Census Bureau (see COSSA’s previous coverage). The Bureau has been without a permanent director since June 2017 and is in the middle of a significant ramp-up as it prepares to conduct the 2020 Census. Dillingham’s nomination is relatively uncontroversial, particularly when compared to the more overtly political candidates the Administration is reported to have considered. In his opening statement, Committee Chair Ron Johnson (R-WI) called Dillingham “well-qualified,” and Ranking Member Claire McCaskill indicated after the hearing that she would support his nomination.

During the hearing, Dillingham avoided taking a stance on whether the 2020 Census should include a citizenship question in response to questions from both Republicans and Democrats. He also answered questions about keeping down the costs of the decennial census and strategies for reaching hard-to-count populations. The next step for Dillingham’s nomination is a vote by the full committee, which has not yet been scheduled. Following committee approval, the nomination must be approval by the full U.S. Senate. However, further action will not occur until after the November midterm elections since the Senate is in recess until then.

A recording of the hearing is available on the committee’s website.

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Posted in Issue 20 (October 16), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

COSSA and 25 Science Organizations Call for Removal of Census Citizenship Question

In a joint comment to the Department of Commerce, COSSA and 25 other science and research organizations urged the Department to remove the citizenship question from the 2020 Census. The letter, which was submitted in response to a federal request for input on data collection activities related to the 2020 Census, focuses on the science and research implications of the citizenship question, arguing that “the inclusion of a question on citizenship in the 2020 Census will increase the burden on respondents, add unnecessary costs to the operation, and negatively impact the accuracy and integrity of one of the most valuable data resources the government produces.” COSSA previously released a statement opposing the question after it was announced. While formal approval of 2020 Census questionnaire by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is all but certain, several law suits to remove the question are currently pending.

In response to the same request for comments, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) Council on National Statistics (CNSTAT) Task Force on the 2020 Census submitted a letter concluding that “the decision to add a question on citizenship status to the 2020 census is inconsistent with the ‘proper performance of the functions’ of the Census Bureau.” The CNSTAT letter is available on the National Academies’ website.

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Posted in Issue 16 (August 7), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

Census Issues Request for Comment on Decennial Data Collection

In compliance with the Paperwork Reduction Act, the Census Bureau issued a request for comments on the 2020 Census on June 8. The request provides an opportunity for feedback on the Bureau’s proposed information collection activities associated with the 2020 Census, including the addition of a citizenship question (which COSSA opposes). Comments must be submitted by August 7, 2018. More information is available in the Federal Register notice.

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Posted in Issue 12 (June 12), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

2020 Census to Ask About Citizenship; COSSA Releases Statement and Action Alert

On March 26, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross directed the Census Bureau to include a question about respondents’ citizenship in the 2020 Decennial Census. The decision was made in response to a request by the Department of Justice to add the question in order to support its enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, although it is unclear why current data is inadequate. Citizenship was last asked as part of the decennial census in 1950; since then it has been included on the census “long form,” which later became the American Community Survey (these differ from the decennial census in that they are sent to a sample of the U.S. population, not every household). In a memo outlining his decision, Ross stipulated that the question be asked last on the Census form. While the decision was reportedly made over the objections of the experts at the Census Bureau, the citizenship question was on the list of planned questions submitted to Congress on March 29.

The decision has raised concerns for those in the scientific community because the question was not part of the extensive research and testing the Census Bureau routinely conducts in the years leading up to a decennial census. The Bureau carefully evaluates all proposed changes to design and wording of the census to ensure that they do not affect the quality of the responses received. Asking about citizenship could alienate respondents in the immigrant community and potentially deter them from responding to the Census at all or answering inaccurately, resulting in an undercount of these populations and affecting the accuracy and integrity of the Census data. The Bureau is currently conducting the last major test of the 2020 Census operation, the 2018 End-to-End Test in Providence, RI, which is being administered without a citizenship question. Because the Bureau will not have been able to evaluate the impact of the question, we will not know how the question will affect responses until the 2020 Census is in the field. Given that the Census Bureau has a Constitutional obligation to count every member of the U.S. population, an increase in non-response would greatly increase the costs of the count, as more enumerators would need be sent to collect responses in person, at far greater expense than planned mail or internet outreach.

The decennial census is an irreplaceable source of data for researchers across the social sciences who use it to generate valuable findings about the U.S. population that can be used to inform evidence-based policies. In addition, information from the decennial census undergirds numerous other surveys and data sets at the Census Bureau and beyond, so a problem at the source would have far-reaching implications across the statistical system. COSSA strongly opposes the Department of Commerce’s decision and released a statement to that effect on March 27. In addition, COSSA issued an action alert to enable COSSA members to easily write to their Members of Congress and ask them to support legislation to remove the question. In addition, other COSSA members, including the American Statistical Association, Population Association of America, and the Social Science Research Council have released statements criticizing the decision.

At this stage, the only avenues to removing the question are legislation or a court ruling. Two bills (H.R. 5359 and S. 2580) have been introduced by Democrats in Congress that would bar the Census from asking about citizenship, but neither has bipartisan support, making passage unlikely. In addition, more than one law suit has been filed against the Administration, arguing that asking about citizenship is an attempt to depress the count of minority populations.

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Posted in Issue 7 (April 3), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

NCA to Hold Discussion on Citizenship in America

The National Communication Association (NCA), one of COSSA’s governing members, will host a Washington, DC event on March 22, addressing the question “What does it mean to be a citizen in contemporary America?” The discussion will feature input from scholars whose work touches on the meaning and power of American “citizenship,” including Elisabeth R. Anker (George Washington University), Robert Asen (University of Wisconsin), Elizaeth Markovits (Mount Holyoke College), and Eric King Watts (University of North Carolina). More information is available on NCA’s website.

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Posted in Issue 5 (March 8), Update, Volume 35 (2016)


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